If Phillip Rapoport gets his way, the Tuthilltown neighborhood of Gardiner will soon be home to a 70-unit year-round ecotourism accommodation on the north bank of the Shawangunk Kill. It will feature “eco-cabins” of the low-tech sort pioneered by tropical destinations like the late lamented Maho Bay Campground in St. John, USVI. A New York City resident, Rapoport told the Gardiner Planning Board last week that he came up with the idea of creating such an eco-resort after years of visiting the area regularly to hike and climb in the Gunks, and feeling that the area lacked a “launching pad” for such active tourism.
Doing business as Heartwood NY, the young would-be developer acquired two parcels totaling 141 acres, sandwiched between Route 44/55 and the Shawangunk Kill, directly adjoining the western boundary of the Tuthilltown Spirits property. Once a part of the sprawling Smith family farm that also included the old gristmill that now houses the Tuthill House restaurant, the property proposed for the development most recently housed a commercial tree farm, now abandoned. The site is zoned RA (Residential/Agricultural).
“It’s meant to be a peaceful place,” geared toward visitors who want to practice yoga and meditation as well as to participate in active outdoor sports, said Rapoport, who attended the March 21 planning board meeting along with his wife Kristin, attorney Joe Moriello, engineer Barry Medenbach of Medenbach & Eggers and two architects from the California-based design firm Electric Bowery. The eco-resort would feature “elegant modern cabins” that could accommodate more than 100 guests at one time, all set back a minimum of 1,000 feet from the road and 150 feet from the streambank in order not to be visually intrusive.
According to the design sketches and preliminary site plans presented by the architects, the resort would include a Main Lodge with a lobby, lounge, pool and spa with four treatment rooms. A separate Event Barn structure would be available to book for weddings for guests only. There would also be bocce and tennis courts. Parking areas would be dispersed.
Overnight accommodations would consist of two different types of cabins. Centrally located along the access road, near the Main Lodge, would be clusters of somewhat more traditional structures, built from structural insulated panels (SIPs), which are “sandwiches” of oriented strand board with a rigid polystyrene foam core. These buildings would include two “premium” three-bedroom cottages and 18 cabins with one or two bedrooms.
Strung along the top of the bluff overlooking the stream, hidden among the trees and accessible via mulched pathways, would be 40 less traditional eco-cabins: more like soft-sided tent houses, for visitors who want closer proximity to nature. According to Medenbach, all the cabin floors would be perched on helical pier foundations in order to minimize the amount of soil disturbance. “It’s like a big screw you put in the ground. Then you put a wooden frame on top,” the engineer explained. “It doesn’t disturb the tree roots so much.”
Other “green design” features are being incorporated into the plan, Medenbach said. Runoff from roofs would be collected in “rain gardens” and discharged into seepage pits in the soil. Passive cooling features like deep roof overhangs and breezeways will eliminate the need for air conditioning, according to Rapoport.
About 20 of the total 141 acres would be disturbed, and the developer expressed interest in moving the lot line so that the flattest, most open part of the property, the former tree farm, could be preserved as a working farm. “We’re thinking some combination of hay and vegetables,” Rapoport said. “We’d like to have our guests experience that.”
According to town planner Jim Freiband, a special permit will be required for a lodging facility in the RA Zoning District, along with the town’s site plan approval and a review by the Ulster County Planning Board. The Ulster County Department of Health “does not review the sanitary field until the preliminary plat” is accepted by the town, Freiband noted. The Gardiner Planning Board took the initial step of voting to take on lead agency role in the State Environmental Quality Review for the project. Members also made arrangements to inspect the site in person in two groups, on April 4 and 12.
Although town hall was packed with interested Gardiner residents for the presentation, no public comment was invited during the meeting, and it was unclear whether community sentiment was running for or against the proposal. A public hearing will be scheduled later in the permitting process.